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Anatomy of a Goal: Morrow Makes it 2

This week, we look at one of Toronto’s many goals.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Toronto FC Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Anatomy of a Goal, where each week we dissect one goal (or near goal) from Columbus Crew SC‘s previous match.

For match 14 of the 2017 MLS Season, we take a look at Toronto FC midfielder Justin Morrow’s 39th minute goal that put Toronto up 2-0 as part of the 5-0 win over Crew SC on Friday.

Here’s a look at the finish from the Toronto FC midfielder.

It was hard to pick just one of Toronto’s five goals to break down, but Morrow’s goal is indicative of Toronto’s successful strategy in this match. When Columbus pushed up the field, Toronto looked to counter quickly, often playing a long pass into the Crew SC defense, looking to build off of a turnover or a win of possession by TFC.

During the first half, Crew SC lined up in what the official lineup called a 4-4-2, with Wil Trapp and Federico Higuain playing together in the midfield. This 4-4-2 sacrificed a defensive midfielder for an attacker, and left Trapp with much more ground to cover. As the lone defensive midfielder, Trapp was often the only player in the middle of the field, leaving acres of space for Toronto runners and creating chaos for the Crew SC defense.

Morrow’s goal begins with this Kekuta Manneh clearance. Manneh, lined up at forward, stuck to the left side of the field for much of the match. Here, Manneh has tracked back on defense, and seeing no other options, clears the ball up the field.

TFC center-back Eriq Zavaleta, pressured by Ola Kamara, heads the ball forward into the path of Michael Bradley.

Bradley immediately plays a risky pass back to Zavaleta, who is directed to clear the ball by fellow center-back Drew Moor. Notice here that Crew SC has 4 players in Toronto FC’s defensive half. Wil Trapp’s midfield partner, Federico Higuain, provides the most pressure to Zavaleta’s clearance. By providing this pressure, Higuain leaves Trapp alone to cover much of the midfield.

Once Zavaleta clears the ball forward, Toronto immediately has a numerical advantage over Crew SC. Wil Trapp, highlighted near midfield, is almost totally alone in the midfield, because Higuain was pressuring the TFC center-backs. Jonathan Mensah is back the furthest on defense. Nicolai Naess is marking TFC striker Ben Spencer, while Harrison Afful doesn’t seem to realize that Justin Morrow is totally unmarked right behind him.

As Waylon Francis receives the ball, he has two options: get the ball to Trapp, alone in the middle of the field, or send the ball up the sideline/out of bounds.

Francis opts to send the ball toward Trapp, but note the way the he heads the ball. Francis heads the ball with his momentum going away from the ball. Because his momentum is away from the ball, Francis slows the ball down, sending an incredibly weak and slow pass toward Trapp, who has to speed up to receive the ball.

Ben Spencer notices the weak pass, and immediately heads toward the ball.

Trapp and Spencer are in a footrace to the ball while the Crew SC defense drops into shape. Notice that Harrison Afful, just above the highlighted Ben Spender, is still unaware of Justin Morrow.

Trapp appears to be on track to win the ball, but has Ben Spencer bearing down on him. To make a successful pass, Trap would have to immediately play a first touch pass to one of the three Crew SC players near him: Nico Naess, Jonathan Mensah, or Waylon Francis.

However, as the above video shows, the ball takes a high bounce right before it gets to Trapp, and the Crew SC midfielder is unable to play a first touch pass. Forced to take an awkward touch on the ball, Trapp is dispossessed by the much larger Ben Spencer. Trapp is listed at 5’8” and Spencer is listed at 6’5” and Spencer easily knocks Trapp off the ball to spring the Toronto attack.

Having just dispossessed Trapp, Spencer has two options. Because Naess has shifted to cover him, Spencer will have to make a pass: a slotted ball to Tosaint Ricketts, who would be marked by Jonathan Mensah, or an easy pass to Justin Morrow, who is running at pace and will be just ahead of Harrison Afful. To Afful’s credit, he finally noticed Morrow sprinting behind him, but will start his run too late to catch the TFC midfielder.

With Afful having pushed high up the field, notice now much space is open on the Crew SC defensive right flank.

Spencer opts to push the ball to the onrushing Morrow, who has already pushed ahead of Harrison Afful. As has happened a few times this year, Afful is forced to catch up with a midfielder who has built up pace while Afful was pushed up the field. This isn’t necessarily Afful’s fault, but the Crew SC right back, and the Crew SC managerial staff, have to realize that teams have punished Afful being pushed too far upfield multiple times this season. When Afful pushes that far up field, he does not have the luxury of being able to mentally switch off, and must be aware of his surroundings at all times. Afful was absolutely switched off until he noticed Morrow streaking over his left shoulder.

As Morrow approaches the ball, Afful catches up to him. If Afful can get in front of Morrow, he can force the TFC midfielder to take a difficult shot or make a cross to one of the, well-defended, TFC players in the box.

As Morrow prepares to shoot or pass, notice the Crew SC defense. For some reason, Naess has totally abandoned Ben Spencer, the tallest player on the field, who is now making an undefended run into the box. Naess may be attempting to get in front of Morrow, but the TFC midfielder already has a difficult angle on goal. Naess should have stayed with Spencer in an attempt to prevent TFC’s tall striker from being open for a chipped cross.

But, Naess’s leaving Spencer doesn’t matter. Morrow fires a left-footed rocket at the near post. Afful has recovered, and does a good job to cut off Morrow’s crossing angles, forcing that shot from a tough angle. Afful should expect his goal keeper to have the near post covered from that angle.

However, Zack Steffen is caught flat-footed and is beaten to his near post by Morrow’s shot. Morrow’s shot here is excellent and perfectly placed, but Steffen cannot afford to be beaten to his near post from that angle.


  1. This entire sequence is a disaster for Crew SC.
  2. Waylon Francis has to work on heading clear long passes. There were multiple occasions of Francis playing weak headed balls, and teams will continue to attack him with these passes if he continues to play bad headed-balls forward.
  3. Wil Trapp was hung out to dry by the formation and his teammates. Trapp’s touch wasn’t great, but he was alone in the middle of the field and had to quickly change speed to get to Francis’s weak pass.
  4. Harrison Afful did a good job to force Morrow into a difficult shot, but he was once again caught too far up the field. Obviously, Crew SC’s system requires the outside backs to push forward, but those outside backs must stay mentally switched on and must be aware of outside midfielders looking to punish them for being on the attack.
  5. Zack Steffen was embarrassed by this shot. While Morrow’s shot was perfectly hit and placed, the Crew SC goalkeeper was flat footed and beaten to his near post by a shot from 16 yards out.